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From Lenin's "Left-Wing" Communism -- An Infantile Disorder (1920):

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/

"[E.g.,] Parliamentarianism has become "historically obsolete". That is true in the propaganda sense. However, everybody knows that this is still a far cry from overcoming it in practice. Capitalism could have been declared -- and with full justice -- to be "historically obsolete" many decades ago, but that does not at all remove the need for a very long and very persistent struggle on the basis of capitalism.

"Parliamentarianism is "historically obsolete" from the standpoint of world history, i.e., the era of bourgeois parliamentarianism is over, and the era of the proletarian dictatorship has begun. That is incontestable. But world history is counted in decades. Ten or twenty years earlier or later makes no difference when measured with the yardstick of world history; from the standpoint of world history it is a trifle that cannot be considered even approximately. But for that very reason, it is a glaring theoretical error to apply the yardstick of world history to practical politics. . . ."

* * *

"The revolutions of February and October 1917 led to the all-round development of the Soviets on a nation-wide scale and to their victory in the proletarian socialist revolution. In less than two years, the international character of the Soviets, the spread of this form of struggle and organisation to the world working-class movement and the historical mission of the Soviets as the grave-digger, heir and successor of bourgeois parliamentarianism and of bourgeois democracy in general, all became clear. . . .

"But that is not all. The history of the working-class movement now shows that, in all countries, it is about to go through (and is already going through) a struggle waged by communism — emergent, gaining strength and advancing towards victory -- against, primarily, Menshevism, i.e., opportunism and social-chauvinism (the home brand in each particular country), and then as a complement, so to say, Left-wing communism. The former struggle has developed in all countries, apparently without any exception, as a duel between the Second International (already virtually dead) and the Third International The latter struggle is to be seen in Germany, Great Britain, Italy, America (at any rate, a certain section of the Industrial Workers of the World and of the anarcho-syndicalist trends uphold the errors of Left-wing communism alongside of an almost universal and almost unreserved acceptance of the Soviet system), and in France (the attitude of a section of the former syndicalists towards the political party and parliamentarianism, also alongside of the acceptance of the Soviet system); in other words, the struggle is undoubtedly being waged, not only on an international, but even on a worldwide scale.

"It is now essential that Communists of every country should quite consciously take into account both the fundamental objectives of the struggle against opportunism and "Left" doctrinairism, and the concrete features which this struggle assumes and must inevitably assume in each country, in conformity with the specific character of its economics, politics, culture, and national composition (Ireland, etc.), its colonies, religious divisions, and so on and so forth. Dissatisfaction with the Second International is felt everywhere and is spreading and growing, both because of its opportunism and because of its inability or incapacity to create a really centralised and really leading centre capable of directing the international tactics of the revolutionary proletariat in its struggle for a world Soviet republic."

-- V. I. Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism -- An Infantile Disorder (1920)

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/

As I have pointed out in previous posts, the Lenin of 1920 is pointed to by anarchists and Left-communists as the Right, opportunist Lenin, the Lenin that suppressed the Kronstadt mutiny and implemented the New Economic Policy sanctioning capitalist enterprise, etc. This text is taken as a rationalization for such a (supposedly) Right turn by Lenin (and Trotsky, who supported it). On the other hand, Lenin's pamphlet has also been abused -- perhaps above all -- by Stalinist-informed reformist "Marxism." The pejorative "ultra-Left" has an unfortunate ideological history traceable to a fundamental misunderstanding of the point Lenin was trying to make here.

Our discussion of Lenin's pamphlet should focus on this elucidation by Lenin of the difference, crucial for politics, between "historical" and "practical" obsolescence. For such discussion should emphasize how this difference is one of the keys ways that regression manifests itself. For social-democratic reformism -- including most especially Stalinism! -- is only one side of regression. The other is "ultra-Leftism." And this would include not only so-called "utopianism" but also what Lenin called "doctrinairism," or, more simply, dogmatic sectarianism. Not only Lukacs and Korsch (as expressing, broadly, both paths to degeneracy in the 1920s-30s and beyond, namely Stalinism and "Left" Communism), but also the the "Trotskyism" of the Spartacists (et al.).

But, as we have discussed previously, there is no hard-and-fast rule that can be applied to avoid such sectarian dogmatism, just as there is none for avoiding opportunist concession that liquidates Marxism's raison d'etre. Rather, both sectarian dogmatism and opportunist liquidationism are dangers against which we can only exercise judgment, and not conceptual -- or organizational, strategic or tactical -- schemes.

This speaks back to our fundamental perspective that Left and Right exist on a spectrum, as dimensions of social-political phenomena, and are not different in kind. But this spectrum of continuity between Left and Right is one of symptomology, from which the Left is not exempted, but only pushes the envelope of what is critically recognizable and practically possible, whereas the Right blurs and betrays this, in theory and practice.

Lenin's point about the lessons to be drawn from the Bolshevik Revolution is that international workers council/soviet-revolutionary politics has revealed itself as a practical political possibility -- and indeed a necessity under given conditions of WWI, etc., the "imperialist" form of capitalism -- for moving beyond capitalism. Marxists were tasked with recognizing this and advancing this social-political form, but recognizing it, not as an abstract principle to array against capitalism understood in a one-sided way, but as part and parcel of it.

This speaks to our larger point in Platypus of recognizing the any potential "democracy of the producers" as the highest expression of the commodity form -- of capital -- and not as being already beyond it.

The self-understanding of the revolutionary moment of 1917-19, as expressed here by Lenin, and in coming readings (in 2 weeks) by Trotsky and Luxemburg on the significance of the Bolshevik and German Revolutions, is vital for us on this point. It helps cut through all the false anxiety (as well as spurious positivity by various sectarians such as the Spartacists, ISO, et al.) around the Bolshevik Revolution in particular, but 1917-19 more generally. It thereby helps us reorient our sense of the task of a revolutionary Marxian politics at present, by regaining potentially lost horizons. It allows us to grasp regression not vaguely, but acutely. All that remains vague -- and rightfully so -- is what it would mean to actually build upon (and potentially beyond, at some future point of advanced practical success) the politics and self-understanding of Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky. The vague character of what it would mean to re-attain the similar point of achievement of their politics is of a different order. In this sense, the obfuscation -- really, silence -- around the theoretical point of departure for Lukacs and Korsch, and, after them, Benjamin and Adorno, is all we have to work with, beyond LLT.

Because Benjamin and Adorno consciously recognize and thematize regression, and, in however obscure a way, seem to retain their ability to find some kind of audience in the present (whereas LLT, and Lukacs and Korsch do not so easily), their philosophy of history, of the disparity between what Lenin calls the historical and the practical, or what Korsch and Lukacs (and Adorno after them) call the problem of the separation of theory and practice, and how the memory of Marx and 1848 informed all of these thinkers/actors, we have our possible approach laid out before us.

Ours is an eminently modest approach: To conceive and hold fast to the inner coherence of the thought and political action among the examples and writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Lukacs, Korsch, Benjamin and Adorno, what they all share in common and can contribute collectively to the critical theory of capital and a political practice of working within, through and beyond it in an emancipatory manner.

Practice has obviously informed theory, and in a rather seemingly inexorably regressive way (e.g., the already mentioned complementary trajectories of degeneration traced by Lukacs and Korsch, in the directions of Stalinism and ultra-Left communism, respectively, after their great insights circa 1920-1923, in the immediate wake of 1917-19).

The question remains -- LLT raised it long ago -- whether and how theory, in the form of historical consciousness (i.e., a Marxian approach, such as expressed by Lenin in this pamphlet), can inform -- grasp and push beyond the actual limits and horizons of -- practice.

Platypus exists to explore this.

-- But first we have to be clear about what it is we are actually exploring to begin with. This is why we are reading Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky at all.

One principal aspect of the great example LLT provide us in Platypus is that, unlike the subsequent pseudo-"Left," they always refused to call defeat "victory," the hallmark of opportunism -- of the Right. Platypus exists to counteract and prevent calling defeat victory, what the "Left" has done and continues to do, in various forms, ever since the collapse of the 2nd International in 1914 and the rank duplicity of the SPD in the German Revolution of 1918-19, the Stalinization of the world Communist movement beginning in the 1920s, and the all varieties of desperate "Leftism" (e.g., "New Leftism," the "new social movements," neo-"anarchism," etc.) that have flourished ever since, in the wake of these crucial defeats.

Such defeatism that Lenin identified long ago has taken the form both of the overt, avowed Right, and of a dogmatic-sectarian ultra-"Left," whose perspective has lost all potential practical purchase on the world, and has thus become a new Right, in practice as well as in theory.

Platypus takes its stand against such regression of consciousness. The first step is the memory, provoking recognition, that can interrupt the flow of regression, the possibility of thinking and acting otherwise that the historical example of LLT can be shown to prove is possible, however under circumstances different from our own.

The following letter that I wrote will be published in The Nation.

I wrote in response to the article "Rising to the Occasion" (published elsewhere as "The 'S' Word") by Barbara Ehrenreich (author of Nickel and Dimed) and Bill Fletcher, Jr. (spokesperson for the Maoist Freedom Road Socialist Organization and co-founder of Progressives for Obama), and forum of articles in reply, under the title "Re-Imagining Socialism," by Robert Pollin, Tariq Ali, Immanuel Wallerstein, Rebecca Solnit, Christian Parenti, Doug Henwood, Mike Davis, Michael Albert, et al.

You can find these articles at:

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090323/ehrenreich_fletcher

-- Chris

* * *

The articles to which I am primarily responding include:

Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher, Jr., "Rising to the Occasion"

Rebecca Solnit, "The Revolution Has Already Occurred"

Robert Pollin, "Be Utopian: Demand the Realistic"

Christian Parenti, "Limits and Horizons"

(etc.)

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090323/ehrenreich_fletcher

* * *

Dear editors of The Nation,

Ehrenreich and Fletcher's article "Rising to the Occasion" and the Nation's forum of articles in reply exhibit a glaring disparity between the breadth and depth of the crisis being depicted and a striking timidity of response: in particular, Pollin's reversal of the 1960s-era slogan, "Be realistic, demand the impossible!," that we should now instead "be utopian, demand the realistic," support and seek to push further Obama's reforms.

But there was an earlier formulation of reality and utopia by C. Wright Mills in his 1960 "Letter to the New Left," the injunction that any purported Left "be realistic in our utopianism." After the 1950s-era declaration of the "end of ideology," Mills recognized that the only realistic possibility of political responsibility was to be found in the "utopian" and frankly "ideological" program of socialism, what Ehrenreich and Fletcher treat as the dirty "S" word.

Mills warned that socialism needed to be reinvented, but could only be so on the basis of the best of the Marxist tradition. Mills enjoined his readers to "forget Victorian Marxism" but nevertheless "re-read Lenin and Luxemburg," and recall what socialism once meant, what Marxism had sought to achieve.

But what we have now is the rehash of the worst associated with socialism since the 1920s-30s and 1960-70s, the undigested Stalinism and authoritarianism of the nation-state, as well as the opportunistic compromises of the Popular Front and worshiping of the accomplished fact that didn't bring about "socialism" and actually made us forget what it meant.

For the global problems of capitalism will not find solutions derived from Lula's Brazil or Chavez's Venezuela, Swedish policies in the 1970s-80s, take-overs of closed factories in Argentina, or community gardens in Detroit's emptied lots.

Such a perspective amounts to what Mills called the politically irresponsible combination of "liberal rhetoric and conservative default" in the on-going absence of a true Left, the radical politics of a Marxian socialism.

While there are indeed much worse things than living under the Swedish welfare state or eating home-grown vegetables, this is not a realistic prospect for saving the majority of the world's people, nor even the majority of Americans, from the ravages of capitalism.

When Parenti -- who co-authored with Featherstone and Henwood a fine critique of "Left anti-intellectualism" in "Action Will Be Taken" (2002), invoking Adorno's critique of unthinking "actionism" -- now notes the virtue of Marxism so even a semi-literate Indian public could grasp the dynamics of international capitalism better than their American counterparts, we have arrived at the reversal of Marx's 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, that hitherto we have tried only to understand the world while the point is to change it. For we cannot even understand our world and its problems on the basis of such a weak political perspective for changing it.

Only what the present "Left" deems "utopian," "full-throttle socialism" and "anarchism, as in direct democracy," not only in "little bits and pieces," but "enlarged and clarified" -- but beyond anything envisioned by our authors here -- starting and pursued to conclusion in the core of global capital, such as the U.S., where the crisis and its potential solution find their nexus, has any real hope of a true diagnosis of our problems and a prognosis for overcoming them.

While the revolution envisioned by Marx and his best followers has never yet occurred, it still might and indeed must take place, if we are to begin to address the manifest problems of capitalism recognized clearly so long ago. This is our true limit and horizon, however constantly failed and betrayed, whether we recognize it or not.

Sincerely,
Chris Cutrone, for the Platypus Affiliated Society
www.platypus1917.com

The following letter that I wrote will be published in The Nation.

I wrote in response to the article "Rising to the Occasion" (published elsewhere as "The 'S' Word") by Barbara Ehrenreich (author of Nickel and Dimed) and Bill Fletcher, Jr. (spokesperson for the Maoist Freedom Road Socialist Organization and co-founder of Progressives for Obama), and forum of articles in reply, under the title "Re-Imagining Socialism," by Robert Pollin, Tariq Ali, Immanuel Wallerstein, Rebecca Solnit, Christian Parenti, Doug Henwood, Mike Davis, Michael Albert, et al.

You can find these articles at:

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090323/ehrenreich_fletcher

-- Chris

* * *

The articles to which I am primarily responding include:

Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher, Jr., "Rising to the Occasion"

Rebecca Solnit, "The Revolution Has Already Occurred"

Robert Pollin, "Be Utopian: Demand the Realistic"

Christian Parenti, "Limits and Horizons"

(etc.)

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090323/ehrenreich_fletcher

* * *

Dear editors of The Nation,

Ehrenreich and Fletcher's article "Rising to the Occasion" and the Nation's forum of articles in reply exhibit a glaring disparity between the breadth and depth of the crisis being depicted and a striking timidity of response: in particular, Pollin's reversal of the 1960s-era slogan, "Be realistic, demand the impossible!," that we should now instead "be utopian, demand the realistic," support and seek to push further Obama's reforms.

But there was an earlier formulation of reality and utopia by C. Wright Mills in his 1960 "Letter to the New Left," the injunction that any purported Left "be realistic in our utopianism." After the 1950s-era declaration of the "end of ideology," Mills recognized that the only realistic possibility of political responsibility was to be found in the "utopian" and frankly "ideological" program of socialism, what Ehrenreich and Fletcher treat as the dirty "S" word.

Mills warned that socialism needed to be reinvented, but could only be so on the basis of the best of the Marxist tradition. Mills enjoined his readers to "forget Victorian Marxism" but nevertheless "re-read Lenin and Luxemburg," and recall what socialism once meant, what Marxism had sought to achieve.

But what we have now is the rehash of the worst associated with socialism since the 1920s-30s and 1960-70s, the undigested Stalinism and authoritarianism of the nation-state, as well as the opportunistic compromises of the Popular Front and worshiping of the accomplished fact that didn't bring about "socialism" and actually made us forget what it meant.

For the global problems of capitalism will not find solutions derived from Lula's Brazil or Chavez's Venezuela, Swedish policies in the 1970s-80s, take-overs of closed factories in Argentina, or community gardens in Detroit's emptied lots.

Such a perspective amounts to what Mills called the politically irresponsible combination of "liberal rhetoric and conservative default" in the on-going absence of a true Left, the radical politics of a Marxian socialism.

While there are indeed much worse things than living under the Swedish welfare state or eating home-grown vegetables, this is not a realistic prospect for saving the majority of the world's people, nor even the majority of Americans, from the ravages of capitalism.

When Parenti -- who co-authored with Featherstone and Henwood a fine critique of "Left anti-intellectualism" in "Action Will Be Taken" (2002), invoking Adorno's critique of unthinking "actionism" -- now notes the virtue of Marxism so even a semi-literate Indian public could grasp the dynamics of international capitalism better than their American counterparts, we have arrived at the reversal of Marx's 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, that hitherto we have tried only to understand the world while the point is to change it. For we cannot even understand our world and its problems on the basis of such a weak political perspective for changing it.

Only what the present "Left" deems "utopian," "full-throttle socialism" and "anarchism, as in direct democracy," not only in "little bits and pieces," but "enlarged and clarified" -- but beyond anything envisioned by our authors here -- starting and pursued to conclusion in the core of global capital, such as the U.S., where the crisis and its potential solution find their nexus, has any real hope of a true diagnosis of our problems and a prognosis for overcoming them.

While the revolution envisioned by Marx and his best followers has never yet occurred, it still might and indeed must take place, if we are to begin to address the manifest problems of capitalism recognized clearly so long ago. This is our true limit and horizon, however constantly failed and betrayed, whether we recognize it or not.

Sincerely,
Chris Cutrone, for the Platypus Affiliated Society
www.platypus1917.com

I am writing with some notes and suggestions on Lenin's What is to be done? (1902).

I'd like to start with a quotation from Lenin's first footnote, in the chapter "Dogmatism and Freedom of Criticism:"

"At the present time (as is now evident), the English Fabians, the French Ministerialists, the German Bernsteinians, and the Russian Critics all belong to the same family, all extol each other, learn from each other, and together take up arms against "dogmatic" Marxism. In this first really international battle with socialist opportunism, international revolutionary Social-Democracy will perhaps become sufficiently strengthened to put an end to the political reaction that has long reigned in Europe? -- Lenin"

What's remarkable about this footnote is that Lenin thinks that winning the dispute against Marxist revisionism and social democratic reformism will signal the beginning of "putting an end to political reaction" more generally! -- In other words, that the fight against the Right begins with the bad "Left!" This can only be so through a prioritization of consciousness.

Clearly there is affinity here of Lenin with our project in Platypus. Lenin was not the "actionist" and did not simply prioritize practice over theory, of which he might be accused -- nor was he simply the "pragmatist" for which he might be embraced!

This points to the true character of the overall issue of "tailism" that is at the heart of Lenin's pamphlet. This should be approached as a matter of theory and practice.

The historical distinction, not to be downplayed, between Lenin's moment and ours, is that his critique of tailism is in the context of a period of political radicalization of the workers' movement of Russia, which had gone through rapid growth after a period of intensive industrialization in the last years of the 19th Century.

Lenin's concern is the same as that expressed by Rosa Luxemburg, that the (revolutionary Marxist) Social Democrats be able to "lead and shape" events rather than following behind ("tailing after") them impotently, which will prevent effective political action.

This is the central concern of Lenin's focus on organization. How does "social democratic" (revolutionary Marxist) consciousness anticipate, through a long historical view, and therefore could take a leading role in the spontaneity of either economic or liberal social-political struggles under capital, and transform these into the struggle to overcome capital?

At the level of consciousness and ideology, this is related to Luxemburg's discussion in Reform or Revolution? of how challenges to Marxism must take the guise of Marxism -- and discussion by Korsch in "Marxism and Philosophy" that developments in Marxism must take the form of a "return to Marx." In Lenin's case, there was the phenomenon of the Russian intelligentsia being swept up in a fashion for Marxism. So Lenin is concerned first and foremost in attacking this liberalism in the guise of "Marxism," as Luxemburg was doing in attacking the revisionist "Marxists" in Reform or Revolution?

Lenin's pamphlet was an attempt to draw organizational consequences in the Russian social democratic party from the international revisionist debate. -- But there is a serious question about whether it is possible to find an organizational solution to the problem of opportunism, which is what the substance was of Luxemburg's critique of Lenin in her essay on "Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy" (republished later in English under the scurrilous title added by an American Cold War editor, "Leninism or Marxism?").

Retaining the focus on "tailism," the passive expectancy and contemplative comportment of the pseudo-"Left" has long been a danger, but one especially so since the 1960s "New Left." (It is a deeply ingrained problem that I tried to highlight in my previous notes on Korsch.)

For example the critical Marxist intellectuals from whom we might take inspiration from the '60s generation, Postone, Reed, Halliday, Mitchell, et al., all exhibit this problem, of shearing theoretical analysis from political ideology, so that the problem of adequate consciousness, let alone political action, becomes a paralyzed paradox. The real stakes of intellectual action become impossible to reckon, and so theory and practice remain separated in a freewheeling manner: it never becomes a question, as it was for Lenin -- and Luxemburg -- of "what is to be done?"

Instead, it becomes a self-flagellation of the intellectuals, for whom Adorno's introductory remarks in Negative Dialectics have an additional meaning, different from their original context, for there is expressed in another form the "defeatism of reason after the attempt to change the world miscarried." -- To avoid or fail to task oneself in one's own thinking and action with the question of "what is to be done?" is to defeat one's reason.

For the point is not to try to "recognize" the emancipatory potential of various social-political phenomena, but the attempt to transform these endemic discontents in an emancipatory direction. More specifically, Marx had already recognized the emancipatory potential of the constitutive contradiction of the struggles of the working class (as such) under capital. The point for Lenin and Luxemburg was how to push the envelope of these in a (self-)transformative direction, how to follow Marx's prognosis that the class struggle of the proletariat pointed beyond itself.

The point of Lenin was not, for example, to "recognize" the "national struggles" (struggles against "national" oppression), but to find how the proletariat could use these to broaden its leadership in the struggle to transform (global) society.

Lenin and Luxemburg took a great deal for granted, and were concerned first and foremost with the danger of what in their time was a rather advanced state of the class struggle of the proletariat from being blunted and hemmed in by the horizons of bourgeois society, or "opportunism" (what Moishe Postone calls "proletarian/capital-constitutive consciousness/politics").

But by the 1960s (and certainly also today!) the problem is quite different: it was not the matter of maintaining the advanced progress and rooting out the inherent dangers of relapse to "bourgeois" terms in the proletarian-socialist class struggle of the workers (what Lukacs called "reification," by which he meant the "advanced socialist" consciousness of the WWI-era Marxist revisionists like Kautsky, and not merely the primordial everyday consciousness of the workers under capitalism), but the constitution of the working class as a social (let alone political) force of any kind.

This is why our project is not so much one of the "proletariat" but more basically of the "Left." Our task is to clarify what it means to be progressive-emancipatory and then to situate the concrete realities of contemporary capitalism within this long historical view.

In this our task is similar to Lenin's, but coarser and less rigorously specified -- as it had been so by Lenin's greater context of the developed 2nd International Marxist socialist workers' movement.

Leaving aside Lenin and Luxemburg, today we are in a worse position than Marx, who characterized his project as bringing to consciousness what people were already struggling for and thus pushing their struggle further, beyond itself.

In the face of the spiraling degenerate barbarism of the present, we might be tempted to say that even in their most obtuse conservative-reactionary forms people are yet still struggling for emancipation from capitalism and not towards its further deepening barbarism. (This was what Terry Eagleton implied in his recent talk at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago -- Eagleton gave yet another expression of how "the Left is the Right!")

The choice of what to "tail" behind today is much worse than in Lenin or Marx's time. It is not a matter of the danger of our abdicating leadership of and thus betraying (potentially) progressive-emancipatory social-political forces, but of resisting the temptation to dress up as progressive (or even human) what is manifestly not.

This is why it is most important for us in Platypus to emphasize that the last thing the historical revolutionary Marxist Left wanted to do was be the most sophisticated chroniclers or apologists for what was already happening. They wanted to change the world, which for them began, first and foremost, with transforming the best social struggles of their time in a deeper and further emancipatory direction.

We want to do the same, but, to avoid the opportunism/tailism Luxemburg and Lenin sought to specify in a more acute manner, we start with a much more obtuse and recalcitrant object, not an advanced workers' movement but freewheeling capitalism and various despairing conservative-reactionary responses to it. We have much less at our disposal to "transform," so we must begin instead with discrimination, sorting and separating out, through "ruthless criticism of everything existing." Starting out, we need to not assume but to see if there's anything there for us to work with at all.

We wish we could share Lenin's impatience with reformist formulations like "giving the economic struggle itself a political character," when today there is not even what Lenin or Luxemburg would have recognized as the merely "economic" struggles by the working class.

* * *

Lenin's What is to be done? is a truly rich text. What I appreciate most about it is the spirit with which it's imbued, from the very subtitle, "Burning questions of our movement," to its discussions of theoretical struggle, workerist economism as the flip side of romantic revolutionary terrorism of the intelligentsia, and the fetishism of "democracy" as epitome of "primitiveness" among both workers and students.

So many of the problems any possible Left would face and has faced is confronted with amazing single-minded clarity by Lenin.

One of my favorite sections is 5.1/A "Who was offended by [Lenin's previous article] 'Where to begin?'."

Lenin's describing in detail the ambivalent vacillations of his opponents in the Russian Social Democratic Party in both their rhetoric and actions reminds me of the kind of pathological response Platypus has provoked among both "friends" and enemies.

I appreciate the humor with which Lenin responded to the apparent "monstrosity" of his proposals in his intervention in the controversies on the Left of his day.

The picture Lenin portrays of the Russian "Left" of his time ought to ring too true for us in the present. But what Lenin attributed to the "primitiveness" of "Russian conditions" (i.e., the immaturity of the *workers movement* there) we need to generalize much more broadly. (As will be shown in the Spartacist pamphlet on Lenin and the Vanguard Party we're reading next week, as was also shown in Nettl's article, Lenin's attitude towards problems of theory and organized practice would have benefited the entire 2nd Intl. in this period and not only the Russian party.)

When we provoke offense, we need to pay close attention and analyze this, because the truth of our situation is thus revealed, from which both we and others need to learn. Thus there's some point to a certain reflexivity permeating all our work. We need others (externally) to be constantly asking themselves bemusedly "What is Platypus?" while we go about deliberately (internally) asking this of ourselves.

As Spencer put it last Fall in what should become one of our most important catchphrases of recent experience, Platypus aims to "provoke and organize the pathology of the 'Left'."

This is modeled on the procedure of Freudian psychoanalysis -- Richard has described Platypus as "psychoanalysis for the Left." (Amanda Armstrong's article in the PR #2 Feb. '08 on Freud and Castoriadis is good for pointing out how the constitutive limits of psychoanalysis are homologous to -- and exist for the same reasons as -- those of politics -- and of pedagogy!)

Our principal problem in Platypus comes when we have been denied/denied ourselves opportunities for occasioning, following through on and sustaining the kind of provocative pedagogical exercises that are our raison d'etre.

We need to extend the range and depth of our provocations (for us as well as others) to recognize that the "Left is dead!" / "the Left is the Right!" There are a myriad of concrete occasions for this that remain to be explored, and some we have already done that need (constant, if modulated) repeating -- the essence of pedagogy.

* * *

"Neo-coms" vs. "neo-cons?" -- Platypus's "neo-Leninism"

At an early point in our development of the Platypus project, there was some consideration of characterizing Platypus as a "neo-com" project, that is, neo-communism -- against and complementary to the neo-cons of neo-conservatism, for instance. -- The idea was that, just as the decay, disintegration and decomposition of the Left had spawned such hybrid phenomena as neoconservatism, perhaps we were not so much the reconnection with and continuation of an earlier revolutionary Marxist tradition but its transformation, under the guise, however, of such historical memory (as Korsch pointed out in "Marxism and Philosophy" that we read last week, about Luxemburg and Lenin's ostensible "return to Marx" -- see my previous post on this).

So we might say that Platypus is neo-"Leninist" -- but in a completely different way than the "Leninism" of the sectarian (including academic) "Left."

For instance, there was a conference in 2001 that issued an edited anthology of essays published as Lenin Reloaded (Duke, 2007), with contributions by Fredric Jameson, Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Kevin Anderson, Lars Lih, Antonio Negri, Terry Eagleton, Alex Callinicos, Daniel Bensaid, Etienne Balibar, et al. -- most of which is rehash of stale banalities when not just hand-wringing over how pathetic the "Left" has become since "Leninism" was unceremoniously ditched by the 1960s "New Left" over the course of 1968-89.

So, in what way would Platypus be neo-Leninist differently from the ultimately shallow provocations of a Zizek, for instance?

Unlike most on the (ex-)sectarian "Left," and (academic) readers of Lenin, we don't find him to be particularly original regarding "organization" (as Luxemburg biographer J. P. Nettl pointed out in his 1965 article on "The German SPD 1889-1914 as political model" that we read a few weeks ago, all Lenin did was address the issue in a way other 2nd International Marxists had not), and we do not regard him differently than, e.g., Rosa Luxemburg. -- And we, following Lukacs and Korsch (and Benjamin and Adorno) find Luxemburg and Lenin to share a focus on the importance of *consciousness*. It is not so much that Lenin was what Lukacs called him eulogistically in 1924, a "theoretician of practice," but rather that Lenin, like Luxemburg (in her 1900 pamphlet on Reform of Revolution? that we read a couple of weeks ago), tried to address the (problematic) relation of theory to practice.

As Nettl pointed out in the article we read, unlike Kautsky, who simply provided "Marxist" theoretical rationalizations for whatever the German SPD (or 2nd Intl. Marxism more generally) did tactically and organizationally, Luxemburg and Lenin took seriously the matter of how Marx's critique of capital ought to affect practice. It was Bernstein (along with Kautsky) who prioritized "practice" with his formulation that the "movement is everything and the goal nothing," whereas Luxemburg and Lenin essentially replied to this that the movement without the goal -- of revolutionary socialism -- was "nothing." -- As it in fact came to be, historically, with the obscuring and dropping of the goal, the lowering and liquidation of the horizon of possibility that came with the degradation of Marxism, first through its vulgarization in the 2nd Intl. and its Stalinization in the trajectory of the 3rd Intl. after the failure of the revolution that had opened in 1917-19 (which affected even the ostensible opponents of Stalinism in Trotskyism, etc.). Lenin, as much as Luxemburg, was about the memory and recovery of that original critical Marxian horizon of the possibility of effective historical thought and action that could lead beyond capital.

A key aspect of the present putrescence of the "Left" is the terror with which it meets the question of effective consciousness (let alone organized politics), which expresses the degradation and degeneration and ultimate loss of the insights into the problem of theory and practice that had been manifested by Lukacs, Korsch, Benjamin and Adorno -- in the wake of Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky.

Nevertheless, there remains a sense that there was something to these thinkers' work, and hence something to the possibility of political action that provoked such theoretical reflection and recognition.

Platypus seeks to (pre)serve this sense, and to free it from what Adorno called (in Negative Dialectics, 1966), "dogmatization and thought taboos," allowing it to find renewed expression and elaboration for the possibility of a future Left worthy of the name.

Lenin remains as essential to this as he was originally, in both theory and practice.

I am writing with some notes and suggestions on Lenin's What is to be done? (1902).

I'd like to start with a quotation from Lenin's first footnote, in the chapter "Dogmatism and Freedom of Criticism:"

"At the present time (as is now evident), the English Fabians, the French Ministerialists, the German Bernsteinians, and the Russian Critics all belong to the same family, all extol each other, learn from each other, and together take up arms against "dogmatic" Marxism. In this first really international battle with socialist opportunism, international revolutionary Social-Democracy will perhaps become sufficiently strengthened to put an end to the political reaction that has long reigned in Europe? -- Lenin"

What's remarkable about this footnote is that Lenin thinks that winning the dispute against Marxist revisionism and social democratic reformism will signal the beginning of "putting an end to political reaction" more generally! -- In other words, that the fight against the Right begins with the bad "Left!" This can only be so through a prioritization of consciousness.

Clearly there is affinity here of Lenin with our project in Platypus. Lenin was not the "actionist" and did not simply prioritize practice over theory, of which he might be accused -- nor was he simply the "pragmatist" for which he might be embraced!

This points to the true character of the overall issue of "tailism" that is at the heart of Lenin's pamphlet. This should be approached as a matter of theory and practice.

The historical distinction, not to be downplayed, between Lenin's moment and ours, is that his critique of tailism is in the context of a period of political radicalization of the workers' movement of Russia, which had gone through rapid growth after a period of intensive industrialization in the last years of the 19th Century.

Lenin's concern is the same as that expressed by Rosa Luxemburg, that the (revolutionary Marxist) Social Democrats be able to "lead and shape" events rather than following behind ("tailing after") them impotently, which will prevent effective political action.

This is the central concern of Lenin's focus on organization. How does "social democratic" (revolutionary Marxist) consciousness anticipate, through a long historical view, and therefore could take a leading role in the spontaneity of either economic or liberal social-political struggles under capital, and transform these into the struggle to overcome capital?

At the level of consciousness and ideology, this is related to Luxemburg's discussion in Reform or Revolution? of how challenges to Marxism must take the guise of Marxism -- and discussion by Korsch in "Marxism and Philosophy" that developments in Marxism must take the form of a "return to Marx." In Lenin's case, there was the phenomenon of the Russian intelligentsia being swept up in a fashion for Marxism. So Lenin is concerned first and foremost in attacking this liberalism in the guise of "Marxism," as Luxemburg was doing in attacking the revisionist "Marxists" in Reform or Revolution?

Lenin's pamphlet was an attempt to draw organizational consequences in the Russian social democratic party from the international revisionist debate. -- But there is a serious question about whether it is possible to find an organizational solution to the problem of opportunism, which is what the substance was of Luxemburg's critique of Lenin in her essay on "Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy" (republished later in English under the scurrilous title added by an American Cold War editor, "Leninism or Marxism?").

Retaining the focus on "tailism," the passive expectancy and contemplative comportment of the pseudo-"Left" has long been a danger, but one especially so since the 1960s "New Left." (It is a deeply ingrained problem that I tried to highlight in my previous notes on Korsch.)

For example the critical Marxist intellectuals from whom we might take inspiration from the '60s generation, Postone, Reed, Halliday, Mitchell, et al., all exhibit this problem, of shearing theoretical analysis from political ideology, so that the problem of adequate consciousness, let alone political action, becomes a paralyzed paradox. The real stakes of intellectual action become impossible to reckon, and so theory and practice remain separated in a freewheeling manner: it never becomes a question, as it was for Lenin -- and Luxemburg -- of "what is to be done?"

Instead, it becomes a self-flagellation of the intellectuals, for whom Adorno's introductory remarks in Negative Dialectics have an additional meaning, different from their original context, for there is expressed in another form the "defeatism of reason after the attempt to change the world miscarried." -- To avoid or fail to task oneself in one's own thinking and action with the question of "what is to be done?" is to defeat one's reason.

For the point is not to try to "recognize" the emancipatory potential of various social-political phenomena, but the attempt to transform these endemic discontents in an emancipatory direction. More specifically, Marx had already recognized the emancipatory potential of the constitutive contradiction of the struggles of the working class (as such) under capital. The point for Lenin and Luxemburg was how to push the envelope of these in a (self-)transformative direction, how to follow Marx's prognosis that the class struggle of the proletariat pointed beyond itself.

The point of Lenin was not, for example, to "recognize" the "national struggles" (struggles against "national" oppression), but to find how the proletariat could use these to broaden its leadership in the struggle to transform (global) society.

Lenin and Luxemburg took a great deal for granted, and were concerned first and foremost with the danger of what in their time was a rather advanced state of the class struggle of the proletariat from being blunted and hemmed in by the horizons of bourgeois society, or "opportunism" (what Moishe Postone calls "proletarian/capital-constitutive consciousness/politics").

But by the 1960s (and certainly also today!) the problem is quite different: it was not the matter of maintaining the advanced progress and rooting out the inherent dangers of relapse to "bourgeois" terms in the proletarian-socialist class struggle of the workers (what Lukacs called "reification," by which he meant the "advanced socialist" consciousness of the WWI-era Marxist revisionists like Kautsky, and not merely the primordial everyday consciousness of the workers under capitalism), but the constitution of the working class as a social (let alone political) force of any kind.

This is why our project is not so much one of the "proletariat" but more basically of the "Left." Our task is to clarify what it means to be progressive-emancipatory and then to situate the concrete realities of contemporary capitalism within this long historical view.

In this our task is similar to Lenin's, but coarser and less rigorously specified -- as it had been so by Lenin's greater context of the developed 2nd International Marxist socialist workers' movement.

Leaving aside Lenin and Luxemburg, today we are in a worse position than Marx, who characterized his project as bringing to consciousness what people were already struggling for and thus pushing their struggle further, beyond itself.

In the face of the spiraling degenerate barbarism of the present, we might be tempted to say that even in their most obtuse conservative-reactionary forms people are yet still struggling for emancipation from capitalism and not towards its further deepening barbarism. (This was what Terry Eagleton implied in his recent talk at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago -- Eagleton gave yet another expression of how "the Left is the Right!")

The choice of what to "tail" behind today is much worse than in Lenin or Marx's time. It is not a matter of the danger of our abdicating leadership of and thus betraying (potentially) progressive-emancipatory social-political forces, but of resisting the temptation to dress up as progressive (or even human) what is manifestly not.

This is why it is most important for us in Platypus to emphasize that the last thing the historical revolutionary Marxist Left wanted to do was be the most sophisticated chroniclers or apologists for what was already happening. They wanted to change the world, which for them began, first and foremost, with transforming the best social struggles of their time in a deeper and further emancipatory direction.

We want to do the same, but, to avoid the opportunism/tailism Luxemburg and Lenin sought to specify in a more acute manner, we start with a much more obtuse and recalcitrant object, not an advanced workers' movement but freewheeling capitalism and various despairing conservative-reactionary responses to it. We have much less at our disposal to "transform," so we must begin instead with discrimination, sorting and separating out, through "ruthless criticism of everything existing." Starting out, we need to not assume but to see if there's anything there for us to work with at all.

We wish we could share Lenin's impatience with reformist formulations like "giving the economic struggle itself a political character," when today there is not even what Lenin or Luxemburg would have recognized as the merely "economic" struggles by the working class.

* * *

Lenin's What is to be done? is a truly rich text. What I appreciate most about it is the spirit with which it's imbued, from the very subtitle, "Burning questions of our movement," to its discussions of theoretical struggle, workerist economism as the flip side of romantic revolutionary terrorism of the intelligentsia, and the fetishism of "democracy" as epitome of "primitiveness" among both workers and students.

So many of the problems any possible Left would face and has faced is confronted with amazing single-minded clarity by Lenin.

One of my favorite sections is 5.1/A "Who was offended by [Lenin's previous article] 'Where to begin?'."

Lenin's describing in detail the ambivalent vacillations of his opponents in the Russian Social Democratic Party in both their rhetoric and actions reminds me of the kind of pathological response Platypus has provoked among both "friends" and enemies.

I appreciate the humor with which Lenin responded to the apparent "monstrosity" of his proposals in his intervention in the controversies on the Left of his day.

The picture Lenin portrays of the Russian "Left" of his time ought to ring too true for us in the present. But what Lenin attributed to the "primitiveness" of "Russian conditions" (i.e., the immaturity of the *workers movement* there) we need to generalize much more broadly. (As will be shown in the Spartacist pamphlet on Lenin and the Vanguard Party we're reading next week, as was also shown in Nettl's article, Lenin's attitude towards problems of theory and organized practice would have benefited the entire 2nd Intl. in this period and not only the Russian party.)

When we provoke offense, we need to pay close attention and analyze this, because the truth of our situation is thus revealed, from which both we and others need to learn. Thus there's some point to a certain reflexivity permeating all our work. We need others (externally) to be constantly asking themselves bemusedly "What is Platypus?" while we go about deliberately (internally) asking this of ourselves.

As Spencer put it last Fall in what should become one of our most important catchphrases of recent experience, Platypus aims to "provoke and organize the pathology of the 'Left'."

This is modeled on the procedure of Freudian psychoanalysis -- Richard has described Platypus as "psychoanalysis for the Left." (Amanda Armstrong's article in the PR #2 Feb. '08 on Freud and Castoriadis is good for pointing out how the constitutive limits of psychoanalysis are homologous to -- and exist for the same reasons as -- those of politics -- and of pedagogy!)

Our principal problem in Platypus comes when we have been denied/denied ourselves opportunities for occasioning, following through on and sustaining the kind of provocative pedagogical exercises that are our raison d'etre.

We need to extend the range and depth of our provocations (for us as well as others) to recognize that the "Left is dead!" / "the Left is the Right!" There are a myriad of concrete occasions for this that remain to be explored, and some we have already done that need (constant, if modulated) repeating -- the essence of pedagogy.

* * *

"Neo-coms" vs. "neo-cons?" -- Platypus's "neo-Leninism"

At an early point in our development of the Platypus project, there was some consideration of characterizing Platypus as a "neo-com" project, that is, neo-communism -- against and complementary to the neo-cons of neo-conservatism, for instance. -- The idea was that, just as the decay, disintegration and decomposition of the Left had spawned such hybrid phenomena as neoconservatism, perhaps we were not so much the reconnection with and continuation of an earlier revolutionary Marxist tradition but its transformation, under the guise, however, of such historical memory (as Korsch pointed out in "Marxism and Philosophy" that we read last week, about Luxemburg and Lenin's ostensible "return to Marx" -- see my previous post on this).

So we might say that Platypus is neo-"Leninist" -- but in a completely different way than the "Leninism" of the sectarian (including academic) "Left."

For instance, there was a conference in 2001 that issued an edited anthology of essays published as Lenin Reloaded (Duke, 2007), with contributions by Fredric Jameson, Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Kevin Anderson, Lars Lih, Antonio Negri, Terry Eagleton, Alex Callinicos, Daniel Bensaid, Etienne Balibar, et al. -- most of which is rehash of stale banalities when not just hand-wringing over how pathetic the "Left" has become since "Leninism" was unceremoniously ditched by the 1960s "New Left" over the course of 1968-89.

So, in what way would Platypus be neo-Leninist differently from the ultimately shallow provocations of a Zizek, for instance?

Unlike most on the (ex-)sectarian "Left," and (academic) readers of Lenin, we don't find him to be particularly original regarding "organization" (as Luxemburg biographer J. P. Nettl pointed out in his 1965 article on "The German SPD 1889-1914 as political model" that we read a few weeks ago, all Lenin did was address the issue in a way other 2nd International Marxists had not), and we do not regard him differently than, e.g., Rosa Luxemburg. -- And we, following Lukacs and Korsch (and Benjamin and Adorno) find Luxemburg and Lenin to share a focus on the importance of *consciousness*. It is not so much that Lenin was what Lukacs called him eulogistically in 1924, a "theoretician of practice," but rather that Lenin, like Luxemburg (in her 1900 pamphlet on Reform of Revolution? that we read a couple of weeks ago), tried to address the (problematic) relation of theory to practice.

As Nettl pointed out in the article we read, unlike Kautsky, who simply provided "Marxist" theoretical rationalizations for whatever the German SPD (or 2nd Intl. Marxism more generally) did tactically and organizationally, Luxemburg and Lenin took seriously the matter of how Marx's critique of capital ought to affect practice. It was Bernstein (along with Kautsky) who prioritized "practice" with his formulation that the "movement is everything and the goal nothing," whereas Luxemburg and Lenin essentially replied to this that the movement without the goal -- of revolutionary socialism -- was "nothing." -- As it in fact came to be, historically, with the obscuring and dropping of the goal, the lowering and liquidation of the horizon of possibility that came with the degradation of Marxism, first through its vulgarization in the 2nd Intl. and its Stalinization in the trajectory of the 3rd Intl. after the failure of the revolution that had opened in 1917-19 (which affected even the ostensible opponents of Stalinism in Trotskyism, etc.). Lenin, as much as Luxemburg, was about the memory and recovery of that original critical Marxian horizon of the possibility of effective historical thought and action that could lead beyond capital.

A key aspect of the present putrescence of the "Left" is the terror with which it meets the question of effective consciousness (let alone organized politics), which expresses the degradation and degeneration and ultimate loss of the insights into the problem of theory and practice that had been manifested by Lukacs, Korsch, Benjamin and Adorno -- in the wake of Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky.

Nevertheless, there remains a sense that there was something to these thinkers' work, and hence something to the possibility of political action that provoked such theoretical reflection and recognition.

Platypus seeks to (pre)serve this sense, and to free it from what Adorno called (in Negative Dialectics, 1966), "dogmatization and thought taboos," allowing it to find renewed expression and elaboration for the possibility of a future Left worthy of the name.

Lenin remains as essential to this as he was originally, in both theory and practice.

After the recent discussion of Luxemburg's pamphlet on Reform or Revolution? (1900/08), there might be some confusion regarding the relationship between Luxemburg's formulations and the raison d'etre of Platypus as an organized project today. -- What is the point of reading Luxemburg today?

Whereas Luxemburg was critiquing Eduard Bernstein and other "revisionists'" arguments that the development of capitalism had made proletarian social revolution superfluous or even harmful, Luxemburg was arguing that such historical "development" must be seen as symptomatic of the growing and deepening crisis of capitalism, and that the organized Marxist social-democratic labor and political movement must be seen as part of that history, part of that crisis.

Rather than diminishing the importance of the Marxist political point of departure, as Bernstein had hypothesized, for Luxemburg, the development of the proletarian socialist movement, as part and parcel of and inextricably bound up with the development of capitalism, had only gained in saliency, had only grown in political importance.

Luxemburg understood Bernstein's "revisionism" in a two-fold sense: theoretically and psychologically. But in both senses as a matter of ideology. Theoretically, the bankruptcy of bourgeois thought had caused it to collapse into Marxism. Psychologically, the apparent convergence of liberalism and ("Marxist") socialism meant the attempt to avoid, as a matter of political practice, the growing crisis of capitalism. Hence, Bernstein's assumption of the gradual "evolution" of capitalism into socialism, whereas Luxemburg emphasizes the crucial crossroads at which modern society had arrived: in the language of her later Junius pamphlet (The Crisis of German Social Democracy, 1915), borrowed from Engels, "socialism or barbarism!"

It was precisely this crossroads of socialism or barbarism that the "revisionists" denied, and that Luxemburg had to reestablish in order to grasp the crucial role that Marxism as an organized political tendency could and indeed needed to play for the emancipation of humanity beyond capital.

But Luxemburg was writing in a very different time from ours. Where Luxemburg attributed "revisionism" -- the impulse to liquidate Marxist socialism back into liberalism -- to the fear that the dawning crisis and depth of the tasks revealed by the development of the international socialist workers' movement engendered among what she called the "petit bourgeois" intellectuals adhering to the workers' movement, she confidently characterized this as a passing malady.

More fundamentally, however, Luxemburg pointed to the deeper conflict within the working class itself, between apprehending its interests in a "petit bourgeois" vs. "proletarian" way.

This is the essence of Luxemburg's accusation that Bernstein et al. had collapsed back into liberalism, but under the guise (and as a tendency) of avowed, self-conscious "Marxism."

For a workers' movement without a Marxian revolutionary politics is just liberalism, despite whatever "Marxist" verbiage or consciousness with which it might clothe itself.

So Luxemburg was calling attention to and theoretically elucidating the danger that the workers' movement (however avowedly "socialist" or even "Marxist" it thought itself) would relapse back into liberalism, precisely as the political tasks it faced were revealed in all their breadth and depth. What later thinkers in the Frankfurt School critical theoretical tradition would characterize as the "fear of freedom" underlies this perpetual danger of opportunism (as opposed to inadequate explanations like "selling out," etc.).

Today, by contrast, we face not a world in which the depth and breadth of the task of a social politics that could point beyond capitalism has been revealed, but in which it is deeply obscured and hidden.

We lack the developed workers' movement of Luxemburg's time (i.e., 2nd International Marxist socialism) that could simultaneously reveal the task of anticapitalist politics, as well as provide the means for succumbing to the danger of abdicating this task (through labor reformism etc., co-optation to the capitalist state, etc.).

And we lack the consciousness that such a politics is desirable, let alone possible or necessary. "Marxism" has consumed itself in the abdication of the task it historically set for itself, and it has buried the truth of the modern of society of capital in the sepulcher of its own demise.

Nevertheless, read properly, the history of Marxist socialism offers some clues into such necessities, possibilities, and desirabilities of a Marxian politics, a politics derived from Marx's recognition of the problem of capital.

We cannot, as Luxemburg could, point to the class polarization of society as an underlying reality with which a Marxian politics could grasp actual possibilities -- and to which such a politics contributed the emergence and development.

Rather, we are left with a more obscure task, revealing that there was ever a point to the Marxian characterization of modern society as capitalist. We are back to square one in this sense, not at Luxemburg's moment of culminating crisis in thought and potential action, but deeply lost in the accumulated barbarism that has necessarily resulted from the failure of historical revolutionary Marxism.

Sectarian "Marxists" read Luxemburg merely as an eloquent defense of "revolution" against "reformism," but as Luxemburg herself pointed out, it is only the reformists who separate and oppose the struggle for fundamental transformation from reforms. The apparent contradiction between reform and revolution is itself a product of the degeneration of effective practical political agency and consciousness.

Whereas Luxemburg had a movement to critique and goad on, we only have a history that haunts us, and one that becomes dimmer over time, demanding fundamental recognition and potential elaboration of an available, if rendered temporarily obscure, framework for asking in our present what is necessary, possible, and desirable for transforming our world.

Rather than waiting for some "objective" crisis of capitalism that, according to the senile "Left" will supposedly do our work for us, while it continues to never ever come, we are tasked by Luxemburg and her fellow historical revolutionary Marxists to explore what we can actually do to advance the crisis of modern society, to make it take the form of a political crisis over its direction and potential resolution.

Platypus, initially, has taken up this task as a matter of conscious recognition of the problem that needs to be addressed, of basic orientation towards the true horizon of potential possibility to be explored.

While it might appear that Luxemburg's practical revolutionary Marxist politics was proven wrong and hopeless by history, it's not as if her debating opponents, e.g., Bernstein, fared any better, in theory or practice.

Whereas Bernstein et al. offered nothing that could address the history that followed, which did not lead to socialism, Luxemburg's clear warning about the threat of regression has been actualized, and for precisely the reasons she had recognized.

This doesn't mean following Luxemburg's (et al.) script, but rather her spirit. It is why we, and not the ostensible "Marxists" who supposedly follow her more strictly, are answering her (and her historical Marxist cohort's) call, and hopefully not too late.

"It is not a question of counterposing abstract principles. . . . [W]ith the degeneration of organizations, with the passing of entire generations into discard . . . the necessity . . . arises of mobilizing fresh forces on a new historical stage. . . . With inevitable halts and partial retreats it is necessary to move forward on a road crisscrossed by countless obstacles and covered with the debris of the past. Those who are frightened by this had better step aside."

* * *

"Realism Versus Pessimism:"

"The fact that two parties, the Social Democratic and the Communist, which arose half a century apart and which both proceeded from the theory of Marxism and the class interests of the proletariat, could have come to such a sad end –- the one through base treachery, the other through bankruptcy –- can engender pessimistic moods even among the advanced workers. 'Where is the guarantee that a new revolutionary selection will not suffer the same fate?' Those who demand guarantees in advance should in general renounce revolutionary politics. The causes for the downfall of the Social Democracy and of official Communism must be sought not in Marxist theory and not in the bad qualities of those people who applied it, but in the concrete conditions of the historical process. It is not a question of counterposing abstract principles, but rather of the struggle of living social forces, with its inevitable ups and downs, with the degeneration of organizations, with the passing of entire generations into discard, and with the necessity which therefore arises of mobilizing fresh forces on a new historical stage. No one has bothered to pave in advance the road of revolutionary upsurge for the proletariat. With inevitable halts and partial retreats it is necessary to move forward on a road crisscrossed by countless obstacles and covered with the debris of the past. Those who are frightened by this had better step aside. . . .

"A revolutionary tendency cannot score stormy victories at a time when the proletariat as a whole is suffering the greatest defeats. But this is no justification for letting one's hands hang. Precisely in the periods of revolutionary ebb tide are cadres formed and tempered which will later be called upon to lead the masses in the new assault."

-- Leon Trotsky, "Is It Necessary to Build Communist Parties and an International Anew?" [in the context of the victory of the Nazis] (1933)

http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1933/330715.htm

-- How much more true Trotsky's insights into regression are about today than they were about the 1930s; today, when we are faced not with "partial defeats" but with wholesale rout, and over the course of multiple generations!

"The causes for the downfall of the Social Democracy and of official Communism must be sought not in Marxist theory and not in the bad qualities of those people who applied it."

So, not "counterposing abstract principles" (like pro/contra "Leninism," or "democracy," etc.), but "the concrete conditions of the historical process" in which such "principles" have/had their true meaning, the process in which the historical Left has been implicated in its course and not merely its victim.

For today we are not merely in an "ebb tide," but in the absolute dregs and back-wash, the worst time for the Left, theoretically and practically, since Marx's day!

But the obstacles and "debris of the past" are no less our problem than they were for the Left in the 1930s -- and 1960s. They are even more so problems for us today than they were back then.

As Adorno put it in Negative Dialectics (1966): "The liquidation of theory by dogmatization and thought taboos contributed to the bad practice. . . . The interrelation of both moments [of theory and practice] is not settled once and for all but fluctuates historically. . . . Those who chide theory [for being] anachronistic obey the topos of dismissing, as obsolete, what remains painful [because it was] thwarted."

I agree with Trotsky, emphatically: "Those who are frightened by this had better step aside."

For the "obstacles" and "debris of the past" can and must -- and will -- be cleared away, and by "fresh forces on a new historical stage" -- but only by regarding this past from fresh and completely new perspectives, not subject to the "nightmare on the brains of the living" of the entire "traditions of dead generations" that need be "discarded."

"It is not a question of counterposing abstract principles. . . . [W]ith the degeneration of organizations, with the passing of entire generations into discard . . . the necessity . . . arises of mobilizing fresh forces on a new historical stage. . . . With inevitable halts and partial retreats it is necessary to move forward on a road crisscrossed by countless obstacles and covered with the debris of the past. Those who are frightened by this had better step aside."

* * *

"Realism Versus Pessimism:"

"The fact that two parties, the Social Democratic and the Communist, which arose half a century apart and which both proceeded from the theory of Marxism and the class interests of the proletariat, could have come to such a sad end –- the one through base treachery, the other through bankruptcy –- can engender pessimistic moods even among the advanced workers. 'Where is the guarantee that a new revolutionary selection will not suffer the same fate?' Those who demand guarantees in advance should in general renounce revolutionary politics. The causes for the downfall of the Social Democracy and of official Communism must be sought not in Marxist theory and not in the bad qualities of those people who applied it, but in the concrete conditions of the historical process. It is not a question of counterposing abstract principles, but rather of the struggle of living social forces, with its inevitable ups and downs, with the degeneration of organizations, with the passing of entire generations into discard, and with the necessity which therefore arises of mobilizing fresh forces on a new historical stage. No one has bothered to pave in advance the road of revolutionary upsurge for the proletariat. With inevitable halts and partial retreats it is necessary to move forward on a road crisscrossed by countless obstacles and covered with the debris of the past. Those who are frightened by this had better step aside. . . .

"A revolutionary tendency cannot score stormy victories at a time when the proletariat as a whole is suffering the greatest defeats. But this is no justification for letting one's hands hang. Precisely in the periods of revolutionary ebb tide are cadres formed and tempered which will later be called upon to lead the masses in the new assault."

-- Leon Trotsky, "Is It Necessary to Build Communist Parties and an International Anew?" [in the context of the victory of the Nazis] (1933)

http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1933/330715.htm

-- How much more true Trotsky's insights into regression are about today than they were about the 1930s; today, when we are faced not with "partial defeats" but with wholesale rout, and over the course of multiple generations!

"The causes for the downfall of the Social Democracy and of official Communism must be sought not in Marxist theory and not in the bad qualities of those people who applied it."

So, not "counterposing abstract principles" (like pro/contra "Leninism," or "democracy," etc.), but "the concrete conditions of the historical process" in which such "principles" have/had their true meaning, the process in which the historical Left has been implicated in its course and not merely its victim.

For today we are not merely in an "ebb tide," but in the absolute dregs and back-wash, the worst time for the Left, theoretically and practically, since Marx's day!

But the obstacles and "debris of the past" are no less our problem than they were for the Left in the 1930s -- and 1960s. They are even more so problems for us today than they were back then.

As Adorno put it in Negative Dialectics (1966): "The liquidation of theory by dogmatization and thought taboos contributed to the bad practice. . . . The interrelation of both moments [of theory and practice] is not settled once and for all but fluctuates historically. . . . Those who chide theory [for being] anachronistic obey the topos of dismissing, as obsolete, what remains painful [because it was] thwarted."

I agree with Trotsky, emphatically: "Those who are frightened by this had better step aside."

For the "obstacles" and "debris of the past" can and must -- and will -- be cleared away, and by "fresh forces on a new historical stage" -- but only by regarding this past from fresh and completely new perspectives, not subject to the "nightmare on the brains of the living" of the entire "traditions of dead generations" that need be "discarded."

A Film by Margarethe von Trotta
A political biography of one of the leading figures in the history of the Left
Friday, January 30th, 2009
6:30pm
295 Lafayette st. 4th FL New York, NY 10012

Friday, January 23rd, 2009
6:30pm
New York University Sociology Department
Puck Building
295 Lafayette st. 4th FL
New York, NY 10012